The weather outside couldn’t make up its mind. Was it Indian summer, with cumulus clouds blithely floating over the gilded domes of
the Tuileries gardens? Or was it a typically brisk Parisian autumn, with sudden sullen bursts of rain?
Inside, however, France’s designers sailed a clear and sure course into uncharted fashion longitudes and latitudes. It was water, water everywhere, with maritime themes abounding, and a fresh accent on fluidity of fabric and fluidity of drape.
BY THE SEASHORE
Helmut Lang and Nicolas Ghesquiere pursued parallel themes on the buoyancy of being. Both went to the navy-French or American, I’m not sure-for inspiration.
No, neither of these sometimes swaggering auteurs swung from any mutinous masts: Both collections were terrifically wearable.
Lang’s starting point was a book on nautical knot-tying that someone gave him as a gift. From this came his beautiful wrap-and-tie blouses and siren dresses. He twisted white jersey around and around, intertwining it with heavy ropes of pearls. His dresses floated along the runway, light as gauzy linen handkerchiefs.
Lang, steady at the helm, manages season after season to fuse sportswear with the elegance of a couture hand. “You just have to kick it a bit further,” he said of his naval maneuvers. “I wanted to achieve a new angle on a traditional theme. Sailor pants should not look like sailor pants. White crocodile sandals should take on a lightness, which is why I added bias-jersey ‘wings’ on each side. I took seersucker, such a classic menswear fabric, and created something postmodern by elasticizing it.”
Lang revealed another, more surprising, inspiration. “What really got me excited was Bill Murray,” he said. “When he called up last spring to have a suit made to wear to the Oscars, for Lost in Translation, he asked for sailor pants.”
Maybe Murray was projecting ahead to his next big movie with Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic, in which he stars as a Jacques Cousteau-type deep-sea diver?
Lang’s brilliance was matched wave for wave by Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga. As he has done for the past two seasons, Ghesquiere continues to binge on the incredible archives of Cristobal Balenciaga-possibly the most intellectual and certainly the most chic couturier of the twentieth century-as he rethinks, reworks, and reintroduces designs from decades past.
Before he answered the siren song of the Balenciaga archives, Ghesquiere too often voyaged into the back of beyond (making only brief ports of call, if you will, in the land of wearability). For spring 2005, however, he cruised into smooth seas, opening his show with Liya Kebede in a remix of a 1958 black Balenciaga cocktail dress with a full, flounced skirt. To make it now, Ghesquiere belted the fullness, to emphasize a slim leg wrapped in a Xena, Warrior Princess sandal with a sturdy heel.
“I wanted everything to be fluid,” Ghesquiere told me. “I was inspired by sailors and science-fiction heroines, mixing their wardrobes for a luxe, extremely fluid look.” He brought total freshness to his cabine, as all the tip-top models were groomed with no makeup (just soap and water, like sailors) and natural, easy, non-primped hair.
Wake up, Paris! Reveille-toi! This is the one man who could successfully launch his own couture house. It is obvious in his wonderful midshipmen’s coats done as cutaways with Lesage hand-beading. It is obvious in his rolled-up sailor shorts: the best shorts in Paris. Ghesquiere is one of the great talents of his generation.
SHE SELLS SEASHELLS
After several years in London, Sophia Kokosalaki gave her first-ever show in France. The new designer in town is a 31-year-old native of Athens, Greece. “I had to come to Paris, because it was where the action is,” said Kokosalaki, whom you might remember as the designer of the costumes for the opening pageant of this summer’s Olympic Games. Who could forget the giant, billowing blue tsunami of a dress she created for Bjork to wear while singing a song called “Oceania” after the Olympic parade of nations? “I worked out of an airport hangar,” she told me, still amazed at the achievement. “And somehow, over two years, dressed 7,000 people!”
Leaving town at the end of Paris Fashion Week, I stopped by Kokosolaki’s makeshift showroom to find out what all the excitement was about. Again, talk of flow, of float, of draped jersey. . . . “I use silk jersey,” specified the throaty, soft-spoken, honey-haired designer.
Although people are calling this whole wrap-and-twist jersey-drapery thing the “new goddess look,” Kokosolaki was not actually thinking of togas when she sat down to design spring 2005. She was thinking of the briny deep.
“I have a fish tank at home, full of fighting, predator fish,” she said. “I have to feed them twice a day, algae from tubes. I looked inside the fish tank to discover how fish move through water. How do you suggest water with every possible technique?”
Like Helmut Lang (who first experimented with fluidity and flou last winter), Kokosolaki evokes the work of Madame Gres without directly pilfering from any archives. Her silk dresses simply float.
She extended her watery theme to seashells, hand-applying corded “shells” to a black wrap dress; taking real ones and slipping them into tubes of gossamer silk jersey, to be worn as belts. One great skirt was bronze-embroidered in India to resemble the ripples of sand created when the wind pushes the tide to and fro.
“My whole ethos was disturbed water,” Kokosalaki said, pointing out the vertical ruffles and open panels on what she calls her Octopus Tentacle dress.
Well, will you forgive me if I say it? Kokosolaki is definitely making waves.